ALL RATHER PECULIAR
But much to the children’s disappointment, they could not go out that night to go up to the old house, for the hot sticky afternoon saw the arrival of some very black clouds around tea-time, and they were forced to run inside with the tea things as buckets of rain hammered down.
“I love a good storm,” said Diana, standing at the patio doors to watch. It was still very hot, and Miss Pepper had left the patio doors open to let some air in, and it was lovely to sit in the sitting room and hear and see the rain splashing down on the parched garden.
“Well, that puts a stop on our night expedition,” Snubby grumbled from the window seat. “Dash it, I was really hoping to see something exciting.”
“Well we can still all watch for the light,” Roger said. “It might flash again, you never know.”
Late that night, after Miss Pepper had been asleep for some time, the children all crept into Diana’s room to watch for the light. Snubby tripped over Loony in the dark and fell into a chest of drawers. That set everyone off giggling and Diana hurriedly tried to shush everyone, as her room was next to Miss Pepper’s. After that, everything seemed funny, and all the children had fits of giggles at nothing. Thankfully Miss Pepper was sound asleep and didn’t wake at all, although even if she had have done, the loudest noise would have been the rain outside her open window.
The children watched for almost three hours but no light flashed. It was rather disappointing. Snubby began to yawn.
“Well, nothing doing,” he said, patting Loony, who was asleep on his lap. “May as well go back to bed.”
“I don’t like to go yet,” Roger said. “You can bet your life that as soon as we go, it will start.”
“Well I’m not sleepy, I’ll sit up a bit longer, and if it starts, I’ll come and get you,” said Diana.
“Suits me,” Snubby got up and promptly tripped over Loony again, who seemed to become invisible in the darkness of the room. “Come on, Loony dog – bed!”
“I’ll sit with you for a bit,” said Barney. “You never know – we might see something.”
Roger followed Snubby, leaving Diana and Barney settled at opposite ends of the windowseat.
“Maybe no-one is out in this awful rain,” said Diana. “Perhaps the rain makes it difficult to signal.”
Barney and Diana eventually fell asleep where they were sat. They slept for an hour or so, until Miranda woke Barney up by pulling at his pyjamas. She chattered very quietly in his ear and then whimpered a little. Barney stroked her in surprise. What was wrong? She seemed frightened.
His first thought was to look out of the window to see if she had seen the light. The rain was still splashing down, and the hill was in darkness. No light came from the manor. Barney sat and watched for a few minutes, cuddling Miranda, who still whimpered a little and seemed very uneasy. He wondered whether to wake Diana. She looked quite cosy, cuddled up against a pile of cushions, with a rug round her shoulders.
Suddenly, Barney sat up straight. Had he heard a noise? He could have sworn he had heard some kind of small noise in the house. He couldn’t even make out what it had been, just some kind of far-off clunk or bump or bang. He listened, waiting for it to come again. It didn’t.
He got softly up from the windowseat and stood, listening again. His movement woke Diana, who stared sleepily round and realised that she was still on the windowseat.
“Gosh!” she whispered. “How long have we….”
“Ssshh!” Barney whispered.
Diana stared at him and got up quietly. She came to stand beside him and looked at his serious blue eyes questioningly. He put his finger to his lips and pointed to the door.
“I thought I heard something,” he said. They both crept to the bedroom door and opened it a crack. They listened for a couple of minutes but heard nothing. The house was still and silent.
“Maybe it was Loony,” whispered Diana. “Maybe he’s awake.”
“Stay here,” Barney crept out of the room and across the dark landing to Roger and Snubby’s room. He pushed open the door and peeped round. Roger was curled up asleep in bed, and so was Snubby. All that was visible was the top of his red hair, and Loony was curled up against the curve of his chest and stomach, also fast asleep. He didn’t even stir when Barney peeped in.
Diana, waiting by her door, suddenly thought that she heard something too. Some sort of bump that sounded as if it was downstairs somewhere. She wanted to go to Barney but was too scared to cross the dark landing and creep down the passage to Roger’s room. She heard Barney tiptoeing back and beckoned him quickly.
“I heard something downstairs!” she whispered urgently. “A bump or something! Oh Barney – is it burglars?”
Barney stood and debated what to do. He was puzzled as to how anyone could have broken in without making a noise and waking everyone up. Miss Pepper was always very particular about locking everything securely at night, and the last thing she did every night before coming up to bed was to go round and double check all the doors and windows downstairs.
Another very small bump made Diana almost jump out of her skin and clutch at Barney.
“There’s someone down there!” she hissed. “Barney – what shall we do? What if they come upstairs?”
“I’ll go down and see,” said Barney bravely. “Go back to your room.”
“Oh no – I couldn’t!” Diana said, feeling terrified at the thought of waiting in her room alone while Barney crept about looking for burglars. “I’m coming with you!”
They crept to the top of the stairs and listened. All was silent again. Barney slowly went down one or two steps, with Diana clinging onto his arm. Miranda was on Barney’s shoulder, quite silent. She could sense that Barney and Diana felt frightened.
Diana’s heart was pounding so loud that she was sure that any burglar would hear it. They reached the bottom of the stairs and stood quietly, pressing themselves into the shadows of a big thick velvet curtain that hung there. There was absolutely no sound anywhere. Diana hated the thought that someone else might be standing there quietly too, listening for them. The longer they stood there, the more she felt that there was someone else nearby, quietly waiting.
Barney silently pointed to the sitting room and they tiptoed to the door and pressed themselves flat against the wall. They stood there for a moment, then Barney peeped his head round the doorframe. The rain clouds had cleared a little and a bit of moonlight lit up the sitting room through the patio doors. There was no-one there. Barney quickly pulled Diana into the sitting room with him and made a very quick search behind all the chairs and sofa, to make sure there was no-one hiding. He tripped over a rug on his way round and almost fell into a chair. Diana’s hand flew to her mouth to stop herself gasping. Barney put his thumb up to show that all was OK in the sitting room. He crept back to Diana and whispered in her ear.
“No-one in here. Let’s check the dining room.”
They crept across the hall. Diana still felt as if there was someone there somewhere, perhaps dodging about from room to room to avoid them as they searched. It was a horrible feeling, and she clung to Barney so hard that it hurt him. But he didn’t say anything. He knew she was scared and he couldn’t blame her. It wasn’t nice, creeping about in the dark when someone else might be hiding nearby.
The dining room was empty too. They checked the kitchen and larder quickly. Nothing there either.
Miranda began to chatter, and Diana shushed her at once.
“No – it’s OK!” said Barney suddenly. “She’s not frightened anymore, look! She’s chattering normally. She knows there’s no-one here.”
Barney switched on the light. Then he went out into the hall and switched on the light there too. Then they went back into the sitting room and did the same. It felt so much better with the lights on. Diana heaved a sigh of relief.
“What if they’ve crept upstairs while we were in the sitting room?” she whispered. “They might have been hiding in the dining room.”
“I think Loony would have woken up and barked,” said Barney. “But let’s go and see.”
Diana thought that Barney was wonderful. So brave – he seemed to think nothing of creeping round the house like this! They crept back upstairs. Thankfully there were only the bedrooms and bathroom to search up there. The bathroom was quite empty. Diana began to feel a little less uneasy now. No-one could possibly have gone into Roger’s room without waking Loony up. Barney quickly checked his room and Diana’s, then left Diana at her bedroom door while he peeped into Miss Pepper’s room. Finally they checked Roger’s room, and the two boys were exactly as they had been before. Even Loony hadn’t budged!
“How mysterious,” Diana said. “We both heard those noises, and yet there’s certainly no-one in the house!”
“Let’s go and check the doors and windows,” Barney said. “Then we’ll have a cup of cocoa or something.”
The two of them went back downstairs to the brightly lit rooms. They went round and examined every door and window, but there was nothing out of place, nothing broken, and nothing unlocked.
“It gets stranger and stranger!” said Barney. “No-one ould possibly have got in through any of these doors! They’re all locked and fastened!”
“And look – the keys are in all the locks!” said Diana. “So even if someone had a spare key, they couldn’t possibly unlock the doors from outside – the key wouldn’t go in because there is a key in this side!”
“You’re right,” Barney said, rubbing his chin in a puzzed manner. “Diana – could we possibly have imagined those noises? Maybe the first noise was outside and we imagined the rest because we were so scared?”
Diana had to admit, now they were standing in the bright, warm light, and all the doors and windows were clearly locked, it did seem a little unbelievable that anyone could have been in the house.
“Well, perhaps,” she said. “I don’t know.”
Barney was looking out of the patio doors and suddenly exclaimed.
“Look! The shed door is swinging open – maybe that’s what we heard, maybe it banged a little in the stormy breeze?”
Diana was just straightening out the rug that Barney had tripped over, then she joined him at the window.
“Yes! It could have been!” she said. “I noticed earlier that Miss Pepper had left it ajar! I believe you’re right, Barney!”
The two of them felt a great sense of relief at this. The more they thought about it, the more it seemed as if that was the answer. That was why the noises sounded muffled and they couldn’t quite tell where they came from – they were outside in the garden!
Barney made them a mug of cocoa and they took it upstairs with them. Diana sat in Barney’s room with him while they drank, then she crept back to her own room and got into bed. She no longer felt scared. Only rather chilly and a bit sleepy now. She cuddled down under her duvet and listened to a couple of owls for a few minutes before she fell fast asleep. Barney lay awake for a while, cuddling Miranda. He was almost completely sure that the noise had been the door of the garden shed. But why had Miranda been so frightened?